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Electronic Jihad – The New Terrorism?

In cyber security, cyber terrorism, cyber threats, Defense, Global Economy, Intelligence, Iran, Israel, Libya, multinational corporations, North Korea, Syria, Terrorism on May 24, 2014 at 6:55 am

cyber hoodie pic

March 2014 marked the hacking of 12 Indonesian Government websites by unknown hackers made up of both adventure enthusiasts and radicals. Apart from giving the hackers visibility, the episode crippled critical components of Indonesian government’s daily functioning where e-Governance is depended upon so much. This does not appear to be an isolated episode but enumerates scores of other recent transnational cyber attacks performed by non-state actors for a larger ideological goal.  This new era of ‘Cyber Jihad’ has far reaching implication, and if fully realized, would further underscore the magnitude of threats that it presents to practically every industry and government sector around the world.

The Edge will be presenting a three part series on what some cyber officials are calling the ‘Electronic Jihad’, and how it is shaping the landscape for this new battleground of international terrorism.

PART I – The New Cyber Warriors and their Tactics

Although the traditional purveyors of cyber attacks – states like China, Iran and their supporters continue to dominate state sponsored activities across the global cyber sphere, the existences groups of irregulars and non state actors – script kiddies, anarchists, hacktivists, hostile insiders, criminal elements and independent enthusiasts have added additional challenges, more lethal and ominous for legitimate Governments and multinational corporations to combat than could have been imagined.  The current state of cyberspace warfare will move to control every spectrum of a conventional battlefield – space, energy & power, economic and finance. This lays out an eerie scenario when a state or multinational is presented with evidence that weapons of cyber warfare are available to any warrior in the cyber world and they are available in the public domain.

In the field of intelligence and counter terrorism, capability assessments form an essential part of gaging the threat. Such assessments provide astonishing outcomes, especially when presented with inputs about a power system being attacked such as the case in the US by a cyber jihadist group.  This input was as early as January 2014, at a time when government agencies and regulators around the world have worked tirelessly to institute stringent control measures, cyber security monitoring and information security audits to defend against these very attacks.  Infiltrating these perimeters and conducting attacks on a critical infrastructure demonstrates the extent and capability being harnessed by cyber jihadists.

Counter terror operations are now challenged with the concept of identifying ‘cyber trade craft’, cyber radicalization, and recruitment.  The entire cycle of Spotting, Recruiting and Developing an agent for these activities can be comfortably performed from the confines of one’s home.  Blogs like Jhuf.net (Jamia Hafsa Urdu Forum) and Al Ansar.info have been critically tracking developments in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and using these issues to motivate members to fight against intruding western government and corporations.  Membership in the cyber realm is usually a virtual walk-in or referral, in which case both can be entertained using pseudonyms.  As a result, we have a potential candidates in the terror recruitment cycle being indoctrinated to fight in the cyber space, and have his/her identity concealed which keeps the original identity intact.  Ironically, these very recruits are corporate employees, information technology experts, businessmen, educated youths in the real-world.  We thus have the creation of an educated breed fighting a radical cause in an open world notoriously shrouded by fake IP addresses.  Through the creation of fake social media profiles, recruiters are able to conduct targeting, spotting and assessing operations for indoctrination.  Through the use of such tactics as  cyber ‘Dead drops’ – where confidential messages are passed in the cyber world and the use of image and text files, they are able to communicate without the possibility of it being detected.  A bomb attack in Tel Aviv back in January 2013 had traces of planning activities left in the cyber world when jhuf.net members posted a message in .jpg format highlighting the plans to attack Tel Aviv.  This was made more scrupulous by the use of codes in the image or text files.  Agencies tracking keywords to identify a possible attack would have missed the inconspicuous text hiding superficially in an image format.  In the real world, recruitments for these causes is prone to being intercepted by security agencies.  However, cyber ‘handling’ accomplishes not just recruitment but also indoctrination, financing and tasking for a potential acts without ever having a handler and agent come in contact. 

How big is the challenge to secure global cyber infrastructure?  It’s huge and growing by the second.  As new users and new technologies take hold, the scale of the battlefield expands exponentially.  Join us next month for Part II as we examine other players, threats and the tactics being employed by this new breed of terrorists.

Lebanon: The Syria Playbook

In Defense, FYI - For Your Intelligence, Intelligence, International, International Trade, Israel, Libya, Terrorism, Uncategorized on December 29, 2013 at 4:37 am

LebSyrFlagWith Assad continuing to make his stand against Western backed forces and various jihad extremist groups in Syria, he has pulled an old play out of the go-to playbook for his regime. He has elected to use his faithful ally Hezbollah to open a new front. As Syria continues to sink into its current battlefield quagmire at home, taking out another high level politician in Beirut expands the scope of his operations, and provides relief through distraction. And with the assassination of the Hezbollah leader earlier this month, it all comes across as a justification on the part of Hezbollah. But make no mistake, this is the same MO as with previous assassinations and it will have Syria’s prints all over it.

The real issue is how US foreign policy is allowing for the war to spread, the empowerment of extremist groups to grow and for old and new terrorism breeding grounds to flourish. Libya and Syria are key examples, and indicators are that Iraq is beginning to follow suit. Here’s what the international media is reporting to support this.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/mohamad-chatah-lebanese-ex-minister-killed-in-beirut-bombing-1.2476861

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303799404579283692798835878

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/175614#.Ur6ZlrRfu_g

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304451904579237323053994120

Koreas on the “brink” of war? Russia looking for leverage over Georgia and weapons sales

In China, Defense, Georgia, International Relations, Iran, Russia, U.S. on September 28, 2010 at 5:08 pm

North and South Korea on the brink of war Russian diplomat warns

Russia Inhibits U.S. Defense Assistance to Georgia  

China warns US against interfering in South China Sea issue

Those who follow the events on the Korean peninsula would tell you that the two Koreas are always on the brink of war.  So just what compels an experienced Russian diplomat like Alexei Borodavkin to make such an alarming and somewhat provocative statement that the Koreas are closer than ever to the “brink” war?  Well, one only has to look as far as the recent report that the Russian Defense Minister has requested that the U.S. sell weapons to Russia, stop helping Georgia, and accept the fact that Russia will continue selling weapons to Syria and Iran.  That is all.  What does that does this have to do with a war between North and South Korea?  Moscow believes it can still be a controlling player should any altercation occur between the Koreas.  The Russians see the threat of a dust-up on the Korean peninsula as a counter to the U.S. attempts to back Georgia and to stop Russian weapons sales to U.S. enemies in the Middle East. 

The timing of this is even more important as a recent tiff between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands has erupted and tensions over the detained Chinese trawler captain makes for the perfect Russian storm.  The background on this incident is that recently the Japanese Coast Guard seized a Chinese trawler and arrested the captain after the vessel strayed into what the Japanese believe is their territory.  The captain has since been released but the Chinese believe the territory of the Diaoyu Islands belongs to them and that the Japanese have no claim to the it.  So how is this connected to North Korea?  As has been the case for decades, the Chinese see countries like South Korea or Japan as nothing more than extensions of the West – namely the U.S.  For the Japanese to have acted aggressively against the Chinese in this manner and to continue to stake claim to the territory  is nothing more to Beijing than a provocation tacitly supported by the U.S.  With the sinking of the South Korea naval ship by the North several months ago, and the recent U.S. and South Korea Naval exercises off the coast of North Korea, there is plenty of material to get this type of showdown started.  So China is simply reacting as China normally does, using North Korea as a pawn to maneuver against the U.S..  As for the Russians, any flare up right now on the Korean peninsula plays right into their hands providing the leverage they need to get the U.S. to stand down in its defense of Georgia, and to deflect attention off their illicit weapons sales to Syria.

Austrian engineer spy: Germany continues policy of prosecution and indictment for economic espionage

In China, Defense, Intelligence, Russia on September 16, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Germany charges Austrian with spying for Russia

Russland-Aktuell – Deutschland erhebt Anklage gegen russischen Spion

Germany Charges Austrian With Spying for Russia

The Austrian engineer had gathered information on military helicopters for his control officer, a commercial attaché at the Russian embassy in Vienna. The intelligence officer / diplomat was briefly arrested in 2007 (in flagrante, as he was about to hand over a large sum of money to his agent at Salzburg railway station) but then released by Austrian authorities and withdrawn to Russia by GRU.

The Austrian Prosecutor´s Office decided not to prosecute the Austrian national, but the German Federal Prosecutor has now (Sep 2010) decided to indict and prosecute the Austrian. Grounds for the decision are the possible damage done to vital German industries and the violation of German secrecy laws. It remains unclear if the Austrian will have to stand trial in Germany.

Nevertheless, it shows the relentless effort by the German Bundes- and Landesämter für Verfassungsschutz, in the daily battle against economic and industrial espionage by countries such as Russia and China. It also shows how the German security services are able to work together with the prosecution services, something virtually impossible in Austria.

In the Austrian Republic, the awareness about espionage is close to nil and it is commonly regarded as a “Kavaliersdelikt” (trivial offense). This is of course not helped by Austria´s aspirations of becoming a “leading regional nation” in Central and Eastern Europe, a role it can only fulfill with tacit approval and support from the Russian Federation.

Contributor:  We want to thank Vincent Van Belle for bringing us another great entry.  Vince is a Risk Management Consultant with MacTierney SAC in Austria.

Iraq back in the news: Sunni cleric death shows Iraqi government’s challenges

In Defense, Terrorism on September 9, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Gunmen behead, set alight Sunni cleric in Iraq

Straight out of Diyala province comes an act of terror resembling those that pre-date the U.S. military surge in Iraq.  This particular murder is significant since it resembles the heinous acts used to threaten and intimidate locals in the early stages of the Al Qaeda insurgency.  In this case the cleric was a Sahwa supporter, a group who assisted U.S. forces in defeating Al Qaeda.  It was these types of atrocities that allowed the insurgency to get a foothold and grow.  Unfortunately, remnants of the Al Qaeda insurgency remain in areas like Diyala and if left unchecked can reassert themselves back into the mix.  A long delay by the Iraqis to seat their unified government and support their police and military will only result in a loss of the advances of the surge.  Iraq cannot afford to delay.  They cannot take on a reinvigorated Al Qaeda by themselves – and with Al Qaeda in Yemen in the mix – the challenge would be insurmountable.

Secretary Clinton and the National Debt threat

In Clinton, Defense, Global Economy, U.S. Economy on September 9, 2010 at 12:29 am

Clinton says deficit is national security threat – The Hill’s On The Money.

Deficit Balloons Into National-Security Threat – WSJ

In February of this year, the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Sieb walked us through the direct link between the out-of-control planned budget of the Obama administration and U.S. national security.  At that time, it was still just “planned.”  Now having implemented many of the spending bills, we have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s startling disclosure that the ballooning debt sends a  “message of weakness internationally.”  The only question that possibly comes to mind is:  What took so long?  Now with that statement, does the Secretary really understand the ground truth of what she is saying?  Is there any real support from the administration to point out such a fact.  Putting aside the anger the American electorate is showing this political season and concerns of the international markets calling the spending into question, does this statement go past political expediency and demonstrate that the Secretary and others in the administration are really concerned about this? 

Unfortunately, based on media reporting out of the White House today regarding more spending for infrastructure, there appears to be a disconnect between the State Department and the White House.  The problem in this case lies in the truth.  It is not just about being able to fund future defense, or continuing to leverage our futures to China, or even undermining the U.S. image abroad.  While these reasons should be overwhelmingly enough to keep us from continuing down this path of risk, there is something more important.  This is still about our freedom and our ability to make decisions even when the world may not be on board.  Under these circumstances, we lose this freedom to foreign pressures as those same international markets, creditors and governments who question the wisdom of our spending now, will be able to manipulate and control our decisions in the future.  We will have no choice.  Once that becomes the case, we no long are able to lead the world as in the past…we will be led.

Russia and its defense of Iran; taking on the IAEA

In Caucasion region, Defense, Georgia, Intelligence, Iran, Israel, Russia on September 8, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Iran nuclear report raises new fears

Russia S-300 air defense systems to Iran

Iran: P5+1 talks failure \’only natural\’

The Attack on Syria\’s al-Kibar Nuclear Facility

Georgia Says Russia Deployed S-300 Missiles In South Ossetia

The new IAEA report says it all.  Iran continues to thwart inspections, avoid disclosures, and basically puts its finger in the eye of the IAEA.  Anyone familiar with this issue could have seen this coming a mile away.  Now we are finding out that, there was a better chance to stop Iran in its tracks eight months to a year ago when Russia first began deploying the S-300 mobile air defense systems.  While outside of Iran, Russia has establish another line of defense to compliment the Tor-M1 air defense systems provided to the Iranians earlier this year (yes, this year) that are currently guarding the nuke sites inside Iran.   Engagement with Iran through the P5+1 talks which have been going on since 2008 has seen no results and has only provided the Iranians and Russians the time they needed to set up this defense systems.  In addition the U.S. government was aware of these weapons systems and Russia’s intentions to bring them into the Iran nuke situation since 2008.  The delivery of the Tor-M1s earlier this year and the S-300 deployments should have been the cut-off for action.  Up to that point, Russia had an out and Iran was on its own.  Now with the weapons systems embedded in Abkhazia and Georgian reports of them also being placed in S. Ossetia, the task for any country to stop this nuclear arms race in the Middle East being promulgated by Russia has become even greater.

Now, if it is any consolation the Israelis have already probed the Russian Tor-M1 systems in the attack on the al-Kibar Nuclear Facility in Syria back in 2007.  They have shown success in countering them.  That being the case, it was just Syria they were attacking.  An attack on Iran now becomes something much greater.  No wonder Iran takes no pause in undermining the IAEA.

China makes its North Korea Move

In China, Defense, Intelligence, military, U.S. on September 7, 2010 at 12:27 am

China makes its North Korea move

An excellent insight into the China / North Korea differences from the Asia Times

Wandering China brings us this blog contribution from the Asia Times that outlines China’s interpretation of events and response after last months US/S Korea joint naval exercise.  This is very insightful as it demonstrates the continued rigidness of the Chinese position to keep the US from gaining a foothold in the region and coming between China and its smaller neighbors.  This is a side of the China/North Korea relationship and diplomatic posturing not being covered in the U.S. media.  Thanks W.C.

From Iraq to Israel: US arms stockpiles grow

In Defense, Iran, Israel, U.S. on September 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Israel to use stockpiled US arms

Alleged Weapons Transfer Threatens Mideast Status Quo

As U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq and military resources are directed toward Afghanistan, other activities are taking place in the periphery.  DOD reported earlier this year that US weapons stockpiles in Israel were expanding and that the Obama administration was authorizing Israel use of these weapons in case of emergency.  Of course, this has been standard practice for past administrations over several decades.  The new development in this case comes on the heels of the end of US combat operations in Iraq and includes the transfer of the leftover U.S. weapons from the Iraq combat theatre to the Israeli military.  Now at first blush this may not appear significant.  However, it is noteworthy at a time when Israel is planning its next move to deal with Syria and possibly Iran.   As Syria continues to arm Hezbollah and Russia continues to arm Syria, Israel may need these arms sooner than expected.

China filling the Soviet void in Cuba

In China, Defense, Intelligence, Russia on September 2, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Cuba and China: A new face on an old relationship

The Chinese have been working diligently to fill the void the Soviet Union left behind with Cuba.  Taking a page straight from history, the Chinese have found favor in Latin America namely Mexico, Central America and Cuba through the use of money, goods and services.  In return, they are receiving training and support in the areas of security, defense and intelligence, much of this a legacy of the Soviets.  What China stands to gain from this is even more intelligence and defense access in the Western Hemisphere enabling them to target the U.S.  From the old Russian signal sites in Cuba to naval ports, the opportunities are endless for the Chinese.  There are even rumors of a Chinese submarine facility in Havana.  While this seems somewhat fantastic at this point in time, how long will that be the case?